In April of this year, celebrated Paris bar Little Red Door hosted a limited takeover by the Indigenous bartender collective known as The Cornsilk Road. Guest bartenders Nobian Henan, Acadia Cerise Cutschall and I offered a menu of four drinks, each doubling as an opportunity to bring visibility and deeper understanding to the cultural significance of the ingredients at play.
While each bartender took a different approach, Cutschall’s drink, And YOU Get a Car!, leaned into flavors from her Lakota background, like wojape (sometimes spelled wojapi), a chokecherry stew, while conveying a sad truth about the ways in which Indigenous culture is integrated into daily American lives. “The most recognized use of Indigenous tribal names in everyday American culture is one that has become so ubiquitous it barely registers to most,” explains Cutschall, referring to the co-opting of sacred names for automobiles, like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Ford Thunderbird or the Dodge Dakota.
Cutschall started by creating a list of potential cocktail ingredients with fellow Indigenous bartender Lucas Herrera, who is familiar with the flavors used in Lakota cuisine from working on the nonalcoholic drinks program at Owamni, a James Beard award–winning restaurant in Minneapolis focused on Indigenous foods, run by chef Sean Sherman. Cutschall was drawn to certain ingredients, such as chokecherry, wild blueberry and elk and bison collagen broth, which are typically used to get through the winter. “I thought about ingredients that aren’t considered sacred or tribal ‘medicine’ and focused on the food I grew up with because that’s what I knew best,” explains Cutschall, noting the frequent misuse of sacred ingredients such as palo santo and white sage.
The cocktail itself is built in the style of a Tequila Sunrise. Atop a base of wild blueberry grenadine and rose hip flower syrup—both flavors are found in traditional Lakota foodways—Cutschall adds marshmallow root–infused blanco tequila and a honey and sunchoke distillate called Late Embers. The distillate, a collaboration between Cutschall and Leslie Merinoff-Kwasnieski of Matchbook Distilling Co., was conceived as a more sustainable agave-like spirit. Sunchoke is likewise found in Lakota food and was a staple carbohydrate before maize made its way across the Americas from Mexico.
The real star of the drink, however, is the gelatin garnish molded into the shape of a car—a physical representation of the shrinking of Indigenous culture. Cutschall made the first mold from a Hot Wheels car; she spent weeks experimenting with how to blend elk collagen and sorbitol to form the ideal texture. Paris’ jelly-garnish expert Antoine Seignovert was called to help, as was Jack Schramm of Solid Wiggles, a boozy jelly company, who helped usher the jelly car into being. The garnish begins with a base of sour cherry juice, to which black chokecherry powder, honey, Nixta liqueur, citric acid, sorbitol and collagen powder are added while the mixture is brought from a low temperature to a rolling boil. Lastly, bloomed gelatin and ice-cold water are added to the hot mixture before it’s all combined in a squirt bottle and dispensed into a mold coated with rose hip oil. It’s left to sit for two to six hours before being popped out.
The jelly car is served beside the tequila cocktail as a visual reminder of the correlation between American excess and the erasure of Indigenous culture. As Cutschall observes, some of the tribes represented in the automobile industry no longer exist other than as the name of an SUV. “In honor of this,” says Cutschall, “I have entitled my cocktail And YOU get a car! (for any Oprah fans out there) as a bit of black and, hopefully, delicious irony.”